The late-June Bush-Musharraf Camp David show seems to have been widely accepted as a great success, at least in the corporate media’s projection of things. That being said, if a nationwide poll were conducted in Pakistan, it is likely that most Pakistanis would judge the meeting as eyewash, because history has taught us that ordinary Pakistanis are always the losers in such games. Nevertheless, the public relations exercise was executed more or less effectively – General Musharraf has received the green light from those who matter to carry on with his unique form of “sustainable democracy” in Pakistan.
One interesting issue stood out in the Camp David discussions. George W Bush minced no words when he said that Musharraf had pushed hard for the delivery of F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, originally sold in 1988-89. Musharraf seems to link the delivery of the fighter jets to ensuring Pakistan’s “sovereign equality” vis-à-vis India – getting the jets would be no less than US acknowledgement that Pakistan’s stance on India is legitimate and acceptable. It is therefore quite symbolic that Bush unambiguously asserted that the USD three billion package offered to Pakistan does not include the F-16s.
Despite the best efforts of the US State Department over the past two years to convince us that there is no more valuable partner in the ‘war on terror’ than Pakistan, the simple reality is that keeping India happy is a far greater priority for the US than pleasing Pakistan. The latter is important insofar as it remains stable and cooperative, but the big fish in the Subcontinent is, and always has been, someone else. It is now only a matter of historical interest that during the cold war India maintained a principled stance of non-alignment, and that between Moscow and Washington, India was closer to the former. Now that bipolarity in international affairs is a thing of the past, India has moved a lot closer to the US, and will likely to continue to do so.
This leaves the Pakistani establishment in a fix. For many years, the US Central Intelligence Agency funded non-state actors based in Pakistan to wage a ‘holy’ war against the Russians in Afghanistan. But now, with the monster on the loose and Pakistan’s military establishment having built its own empire from the embers of the 1980s Afghan war, the US takes a different view of things and wants the religious right curbed. At least, that is what one is made to believe. In reality, it probably suits the US just fine that the mullahs in Pakistan are responsible for the occasional tumult, just as the US is fairly comfortable with mullahs in most Muslim-majority countries around the world. This is because it is important for the US establishment to maintain the threat perception of extremist Islam so as to continue its imperial march.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that, at least on the surface, the US will continue to exert pressure on Pakistan to curtail the religious right’s activities. As such, Pakistan’s bargaining position is weak in comparison to India’s. The Indian establishment – just as complicit in perpetuating the conflict over Kashmir as the Pakistani establishment – is therefore quite content to go about its business and forge ever-closer economic ties with the US. The losers in this saga are the people of the Subcontinent, and they will continue to lose until and unless some other force comes to the fore.
The tautology here is that only the collective will of the people of the region can create such a new force. As such, the prospect probably seems remote to most people for a variety of reasons, including oppressive social constraints, and the rapidity with which corporate and consumer cultures are penetrating society. We consequently face the immense task of constructing a dynamic political vision out of the circumstances of the day. Even so, it is worth noting that the global hegemon and South Asia’s elites are feeling the weight of the immense contradictions in their evolving relationship, which are now making the boat rock.
It is important to remember that, as always, a significant portion of the USD three billion aid package to Pakistan will line the pockets of generals and brigadiers. This makes perfect sense for a number of reasons. Washington is well aware that sooner or later it will have to do something about the military’s domination of politics in Pakistan – it is now increasingly difficult to justify military-style “sustainable democracy” when the number of countries across the world where the military runs the state is down to a handful. The natural dynamics of global capitalism ensure that the US will assist the military in consolidating its corporate empire within Pakistan so that when a military retreat from the political sphere is the only way forward, its high brass will be content with the riches it has acquired, and will continue to acquire in the future. Even so, the military – being the military – will not go quietly, and it is up to the Pakistani people to power the movement that expels it from the affairs of the state.
Meanwhile, the Indian establishment will exploit the existing situation to the greatest extent possible to fortify its claims to regional hegemony, something already underway with its economic take-off facilitated by foreign capital. But fortunately, the march of the Indian capitalists is not unimpeded. In India, the tradition of resistance is far more developed than it is in Pakistan, and so capital’s swoop is facing a legitimate challenge.
However, as in Pakistan, in India there seems to be a widening gulf between those who see the most important issue before the Indian polity as the struggle between secular and non-secular forces, and those who see the inroads being made by capitalism and imperialism into the country as the primary concern of the present day. The problem is that the Bharatiya Janata Party represents all of the truly regressive trends that prevail in India at the moment. However, the Congress has proven to be – and will likely remain – a willing partner of international financial institutions and the global financial elite. There is therefore no significant difference in the politics of India’s leading political powerhouses, even while one represents the religious right, and the other secularism.
As elsewhere in the world, the parochialism espoused in the politics of South Asia’s religious right is a reactionary outcome of a number of objective conditions. That is not to say that such trends have not existed in the region till now; in fact, certain communities in South Asia have a long history and culture in which such trends are definitive. Nonetheless, the manner in which such trends have become almost all encompassing is misrepresentative of South Asia’s traditions. Inorganic trends in society are by definition the outcome of interventions from without. And so ultimately, if the Subcontinent does face the spectre of sectarianism and parochialism, there should be no doubt that capitalism has everything to do with it. Whether it is General Musharraf, Benazir Bhutto, LK Advani or Sonia Gandhi that meets with George W Bush, the discussion and result will be almost identical. We must acknowledge this fact, and then mould a new reality unclouded by our own narrow concerns of self-interest. The real problem facing South Asia is not our supposedly obsolete and warped perception of the world, but rather neo-colonialism. And it is time that we did something about it.